Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ikejiani: Remembering his tribute to Zik II

by P. Chudi Uwazuruike

Continued from last week

He comforted me and replaced the counterfeit money. He proceeded to make all the arrangements for all of us. True enough, came December 1938, the eight of us left Apapa and sailed for the United States of America to embark on further studies. It was a very historic event in Nigeria with throngs of people coming to see us off at the wharf.

Zik assisted dozens of Africans to go on to the United States for university education. In assisting and helping us and those that had gone before us, like late Kwame Nkrumah just about a year after he has returned to Nigeria from Ghana was a great way of showing the light. K.O. Mbadiwe, A.A. Nwafor Orizu, and others like Jones-Quartey, Karimu Disu, Kalu Ezera, etc., all travelled under his aegis.

I met Zik again in August 1948 when I returned from the United States of America and Canada , after many years of sojourn there. It happened that my wife was a white lady, nee Marjorie Carter. Rumour had reached the Igbo State Union that I was returning with wife. The Igbo Union executives met with Zik and informed him about what they had heard. They said that because of that, they would not give me the reception they were planning for me. He asked them whether I wrote to them that I was returning and they should accord me a reception. They said no. He thereupon told that he did not think that I would be expecting their reception. Zik added that he was going to Apapa to meet me and my wife and that we were going to be his host as long as we stayed in Lagos . That shocked them and completely cured them of the race hatred which they harboured. That notwithstanding, I was given receptions galore on our return wherever we went throughout Igboland.

From the moment of my return in 1948, a deep and abiding friendship developed between Zik and I. This friendship grew by leaps and bounds over the years - and I came to learn a lot about him. From that incident in 1948, I realized that this man called Zik was not prejudiced against white people. As an Igbo, like him, raised in the same environment that influenced his basic character, I communicated with him in the same language and understood the riddles and real meanings behind his remarks, statements and messages. Our friendship throughout the years until his death, was based on mutual trust and respect. As one brought up in the tradition of Igbo custom, Zik was my elder in age and indeed in everything else. Igbo society believes that although no condition is permanent, still no human society can achieve absolute equality for its citizens as there are distinctions of age, sex and wealth. Yet the dignity of every man was absolute. For instance, I am self-assertive as an Igbo, and Zik respected and valued it; as an Igbo also, I am not subservient, nor do I pay unquestionable obedience to everything Zik said. Zik admired and respected that also.

Zik had great faith in the immense ability of the peasantry to understand, and believed that they were just waiting to be enlightened. ..The editorials in the newspapers, especially those of the West African Pilot, were complemented by the humour, intelligence and acerbic satires of the various columnists. Among the best known columns were "Inside Stuff," written by Zik himself; "As I see it" by O.A Alakija; "A New Education for a New Africa" by Professor Eyo Ita; among others. The writers were all nationalists, and their essays were not only nationalistic but also educational. They showed black Africans and Nigerians the light. Many became prodigious readers, enabling them to acquire the dramatic force of conviction that propelled them to dare. Those columns became a form of literature for every school boy and girl, every worker, every one who could read and write. Certainly there began in Nigeria and all black Africa , a period of enlightenment, and the flowering of a new set of ideas about colonial rule and freedom from it.

As an instrument of propagating nationalism, equality of mankind and self-pride, their anti-colonial and nationalistic effect on the generation, our generation, and the era between 1937 and 1960 was unparalleled. No other previous or contemporary anti-colonial newspaper in Nigeria or elsewhere in black Africa had produced anything comparable in their influence towards a national spirit and towards Nigerian oneness.

In attacking imperialism and educating Nigerians, Zik’s writings were designed to appeal to every class - the common people, the youth, the intellectual, the rural as well as the city workers, and in a language which suited their emotion and which they understood. … He was a marvelous mob orator especially when he spoke concerned with the genuine hatred of imperialism and racial discrimination. His speeches always overwhelmed his audience, always moved them to immense enthusiasm, to a magnificent understanding of the evils of imperialism…

It is true that Zik’s age also had other politicians who emerged to join with him in the fight for independence, men no less sincere and probably no less devoted. But no one so vigorously, so single handedly or so successfully tried, as he did, in making every word and every act of his life a means towards a single objective, freedom from Britain as a SINGLE UNIFIED NIGERIAN NATION. As James Coleman testified, "During the fifteen year period (1939-1945) Nnamdi Azikiwe was undoubtedly the most celebrated nationalist leader on the West Coast of Africa, if not, in all tropical Africa", and that he was "the most single precipitator of the Nigerian awakening."

Certainly in 1930s and 1950s, Zik was the sole national leader, the sole nationalist inspirer, the sole intellectual, moral and political dictator in Nigeria against imperialism. He created an irresistible nationalist movement willing to overthrow colonial rule by peaceful means. He was an indomitable Moses preparing to lead his people out of Egypt . And he did. The emergence of Zik and his newspapers gave a new eloquence and ardor, a richer, more meaningful and emotionally charged anti-colonial message which profoundly effected more black Africans and Nigerians than ever before. No other black African or Nigerian before him or after, could claim to have aroused so many people across all the tribes, with direct and powerful nationalist political influence, as he did. Certainly, he exercised an intellectual and nationalist influence over many black Africans and Nigerians the strength of which was unique. He was the child of Africa and Nigeria and of Africa and Nigeria ‘s twentieth century prophetically calling for the end of colonialism and without violence. The verdict of history will record that this man Zik, had he done nothing else, that alone would have been sufficient to have assured him a lasting fame.

In conclusion, what Ikejiani said in closing the Foreword in the tribute to his friend, could very well he said of him by many who came to know him closely: He was indeed a great man. His life all reminds us about Longfellow’s Psalm of Life: Lives of great men all remind us; We can make our lives sublime, and in departing leave behind us foot prints in the sands of time."

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